It took every ligament and tendon in my body to restrain myself from making a radical movement.
She was standing on the scale. Her back turned away from me. Silent. Staring at Numbers that I can only bet did not dip as low she would have liked. And I wanted more than anything to walk up from behind her and step upon the scale as well. Stand beside her and promise her that we could split the weight of feeling inadequate or not enough in this world.
I could not help but watch her earlier as she went through the motions of a workout. Huffing. Puffing. Staring every few minutes or so into the mirror. Zooming in on her own trouble zones. She looked young. Too young to already be plagued by the messages of this world. Not Skinny Enough. Not Pretty Enough. Get on a metal machine, watch the numbers spin and set, and then decide if you are worth something. Take up less space and magically find that you are worth more.
I wanted to pull the issue of Cosmo that was clutched in her right hand while she fixed her eyes on those numbers; take it and place it down. “What you are looking for is not in there,” I would have said. “It has never been in there.”
I realized today: It Has Never Been In There and Yet I Have Stayed Searching In One Place. In Centerfold & Feature Articles. For a beauty I will never find until I unearth it myself. And so, as of today, I am turning away from the pages that have been a Holy Grail to me for an entire year. No beauty magazines. No beauty sites. No beauty emails in my inbox.
I first turned to beauty magazines when my own skin turned on me at age eleven.
While God was busy sending little girls their own guardian angels and bright stars to wish upon, I think he chose to send me a subscription to Seventeen Magazine. He made all the proper arrangements from the Heavens above that I would receive that beauty magazine five years too young as I desperately sought out a savior from the skin disease that made me a constant punchline to my peers.
Beauty magazines became my escape. I was a hopeless addict from the start, strung out over the glossy glorified mess that accidentally fell upon my doorstep.
I allowed my eyes to carefully trace and memorize the smiles of other fortunate girls. Skinny. Fashionable. Happy Girls. Wrapped in the arms of a boy too mature for my lunchroom.
There were days when these girls were my best friends. I cut them loose from their perfect placements, away from the ice cream shop and the field of daisies, in order to paste them into a scrapbook next to pictures of myself. In my imaginary world these two-dimensional divas requested my presence at their lunch table, combed my hair on the bus ride to school, and gushed over my perfect eyelashes. I was a “total catch” and we all knew it. When all of our school work was done we would frolic outside, wearing matching cardigans and plaid skirts, sipping soda from crazy straws and playing MASH.
Oh, how I adored my friends that resided on the pages of the beauty magazines. They were my friends of all different, but equally divine, races and walks of life. Some had almond-shaped eyes while others had long red locks (with even longer legs). I loved them simply because they were friends who promised me something my own inner critic would not: the promise to be beautiful one day.
They whispered assurance from their still lips that I would wake up one day and be a worthwhile human being in a world that convinced me I was only as good as the volume in my mascara and the lack of fat on my body.
I remember searching the 129-page spread, as if it were my own prowling grounds for the Golden Ticket, saying to myself, “I never realized I had this much to fix. I never realized I was missing so much.”
Plenty of us are like this, nomads to our own bodies; traveling everywhere but inside of ourselves to the parts we truly need to fix. A person could argue that there is no need to search those dark inner workings if there is something on the outside to fix first. I can stay hungry over always having to minimize an outer glitch. Thighs to Make Smaller. Love Handles to Make Lovelier. We will not ever have to stare inward and find out what is really missing, or to find out the scariest truth: that we are not missing anything at all. That kind of acceptance would be hard to welcome, especially when bound so faithfully to magazines that always offer something to change. Some New Project Involving Leaner Legs & Longer Lashes.
What would it take for us to begin the search for the loose thread in our souls that has so unraveled us and brought us to this point? This point of loving our bodies when it meets our every day expectations. A Bipolar Love. Far From Unconditional. A Love that Shrinks with our Skinny Jeans in the Wash.
What would it take to extinguish completely the unsteady relationship we carry with our bodies and become more familiar with actions and verbs: “to start over,” “to find a new beginning,” “to rewrite the love laws for our bodies”? These days I crave new love laws. More forgivable and tolerable. Bendable. Not Breakable. More Adoring.
Sorry Cosmo, but you won’t be the one to teach me this. I have to get this down on my own.
The glossy pages can no longer be a savior to a girl who wants to know and understand True Beauty like the backs of her own freckled hands. For she cannot teach True Beauty or help other heal until she knows it for herself… So I am throwing away the subscriptions, tossing the stacks by my bedside, unsubscribing by email, and unplugging myself from beauty magazines and websites for 12 months to see what kind of beauty I can find when I don’t turn straight to the pages and experts first.
Perhaps then, in one year from now, I can bravely stand beside that girl on the scale and take the magazine from within her grips and tell her with confidence, “It is not in there, I know it now. But let me show you what I found once I looked inside for the first time.”